It may seem like just another hackneyed acronym, but FOMO, or “fear of missing out”, is prevalent enough to warrant an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary a few years ago.

“What may seem like a new phenomenon attributed to millennials is actually quite common across all ages,” explains Richard Cayne. “People fall into a trap of spending what they should be saving, or worse, living beyond their means.”

Keeping up with the Joneses – in the 21st century

FOMO came into popular use to describe people who wanted their lifestyle to match their peers. With the advent of social media, we can become inundated with images of our friends having fun on holiday, partying at the trendiest venues, or indulging in extravagant meals. Fearing that they are missing out (hence, FOMO) on the experiences or, perhaps a little superficially, on the attention, they spend more to match or exceed what they see their friends are doing.

Usually used when discussing millennials’ spending habits, FOMO is just a modern variation of “keeping up with the Joneses”, where people felt they had to have the same nice things as their friends and neighbours. This term has been in use since the turn of the 20th century, and examples of this lifestyle can probably be traced back since the dawn of civilisation.

Suffering from FOMO now may cause you to miss out later

FOMO doesn’t just apply to frivolous spending. Through social media and mainstream news sources, we hear about people allegedly making millions on apps, cryptocurrencies, venture capital, and the like. So, of course, you want in, but sometimes in the rush to cash in where others succeeded, you may forego proper due diligence and make unwise investment choices.

Aspiring to improve your life is not a syndrome or a fault, but spending unnecessarily just to keep up appearances will hurt you in the long run. There are strategies to cope (some seemingly as simple as avoid or limit social media access), and developing a financial discipline can help as well.

“Discussing your financial health with a trusted advisor should help you gain clarity as to what you can spend, which means you may have to miss out sometimes,” says Richard. “But with clear goals set, you can see when you can splurge a little, so you don’t miss out.”